Danny Szetela will captain the Cosmos for the second consecutive season. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — No one needs to remind New York Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes how important opening day is for a soccer team.
After all, he has been through 16 as a professional player and coach.
No. 17 will be Saturday, April 27, when the Cosmos kick off their National Premier Soccer League season hosting the New York Athletic Club at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y., at 7 p.m.
“It’s very important to play well,” he said. “We’re going to have to bring the right energy. We have to have the right mentality and put a good performance on the field for the club for the fans to enjoy. It’s a new venue. It’s important to make sure the people who come out are excited and enjoy the game and they come back. a big game. Just excited about it and after working hard in preseason to see what these guys are capable of.”
Given what they accomplished last year, the Cosmos are considered favorites to win the North Atlantic Conference crown and go deep in the NPSL playoffs again. They finished the regular season with a perfect 10-0-0 mark before they were eliminated by FC Motown in the Northeast Region Final, the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
So, not surprisingly, Mendes is optimistic that the Cosmos will enjoy a successful run as they target the NPSL championship as their ultimate goal in the first part of the year. They also will compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and in the Founders Cup beginning this summer.
“We feel good about the group,” he said. “We know we have talent, but it’s one game at a time. We’re trying to get across to [the players] there’s no easy games, whether you’re in the NPSL, Open Cup, or the Founders Cup come August.
“We need to do the little things right. We need to work for each other. Those are the most important things. If we do that, I think we’ll have a successful year. We’ll enjoy it. There’s still a lot of work to do, a lot of games. Everyone’s going to have opportunities to play. It’s vital we have the kind of mentality throughout the team that whoever’s on the field, they do what is expected and they play for each other.”
Team captain Danny Szetela leads eight players from last year’s squad on the team, including striker Bledi Bardic, who tallied a team-best 12 goals, and midfielder Darwin Espinal, who had a knack of scoring goals on the road.
“The guys have been doing great,” said Szetela, who has played for the Cosmos since 2013. “Once guys get hot, the goals are going to just keep coming. Maybe we’re saving it for this weekend. Hopefully, we have a big game and get a good result.”
Several newcomers with international experience are expected to bolster the team, including Albanian national team captain Ansi Agolli, who will man the left back position, and midfielders Ricardo Bocanegra, a former Mexican youth international who has played in Liga MX, and Junior Burgos, a member of the El Salvadoran national team. Forward Aaron Dennis, who grew up in Elmont, N.Y., is a member of the U.S. Virgin Islands national side, having captained the team as well.
Agolli has made 73 appearances for Albania.
“Guys have a lot of respect for him. We’re very happy to have him,” Mendes said. “He’s a great player, but also a great person who has a great mentality. He’s very good for the club.”
Mendes said he had “high expectations” for Bocanegra, a crafty playmaker who can score goals and set up teammates.
“He’s a great player. He’s a pro,” Mendes said. “He’s adjusted through preseason, but we expect a lot out of him. That final pass and finding the gaps, and really making a difference for us and we’re going to push it to do well. I love what I’ve seen in the preseason.”